Across the country in September, skylines will flicker a rainbow of colors to help shine a light on Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
Today, nearly 1.3 million people in the United States are living with or are in remission from the three most common types of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
In recent years, scientific advances have led to significantly higher cure rates for many of these cancers, but there is much work to be done. Researchers rely on charitable donations to make discoveries that will further improve patient outcomes.
"Blood cancers are a heterogeneous group of diseases that arise in the bone marrow and/or lymph nodes and profoundly affect the function of the immune system and other processes necessary for life," explains Elan Diamond, MD, director of oncologic research at Holy Name Medical Center. "Because standard screening protocols do not exist for these diseases, research focused on treating and curing these diseases is essential."
Leukemia is a cancer of young immune cells, explains Dr. Diamond. It is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection and instead reduce the ability of the bone marrow to produce normal red blood cells and platelets.
"Lymphoma is a cancer of cells called lymphocytes, a type of immune cell that resides in your lymph nodes," says Dr. Diamond. "Lymphoma causes very swollen glands and can result in severe illness."
Myeloma is a cancer of the white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies. Myeloma cells produce large amounts of abnormal proteins that can damage your kidneys and other organs. They also can affect bone health, cause anemia, and result in life-threatening electrolyte abnormalities.
Blood cancers can affect anyone, at any time. "And unlike colon cancer, for example, which grows slowly, blood cancers can develop rapidly and make you very sick in a matter of days," says Dr. Diamond. "Early recognition of the signs and symptoms of these cancers can save your life."
While not all blood cancers are the same, there are some signs and symptoms to be mindful of. These include:
- Unexplained fevers and chills
- Drenching night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistently swollen glands
- Unusual bruising and bleeding
- Bone pain
"Diagnosis of a blood cancer may include blood work, a bone marrow biopsy, or a biopsy of a swollen gland," says Dr. Diamond.
But here's the good news: A blood cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. "Many blood cancers are curable," says Dr. Diamond. "There have been major advances that have revolutionized how we care for patients with these diseases."
In addition to chemotherapy, which can be extremely effective for many blood cancers, targeted therapies and immunotherapies are exciting new treatment options that are already in use in cancer centers. Immunotherapy drugs, for example, help to recruit the immune system to eradicate cancer cells. These medications may take the form of antibody therapy or specially engineered immune cells that have been designed to specifically target cancer cells.
Despite these advances, a lack of awareness poses a tremendous obstacle to our efforts in prevention and early diagnosis, making Blood Cancer Awareness Month all the more important.
As director of oncologic research at the Patricia Lynch Cancer Center, Dr. Diamond is committed to providing his patients with the opportunity to gain access to the latest innovations in cancer care. In addition to his interest in therapeutic clinical trials, Dr. Diamond spearheads Holy Name’s genomic medicine program. Genomic medicine, also known as personalized medicine, is a way to customize medical care to your body’s specific genetic makeup.
Holy Name provides outstanding clinical services for blood cancer patients. This next generation of testing will give clinicians even more guidance as to how to provide the best possible treatment for blood cancer patients with the best possible outcomes.
Please, take some time to learn more by calling The Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at 201-541-5900 or visiting our website: holyname.org/cancercare.